Benefits of Including Teachers in Decision-Making
A great leader understands that his or her success largely rests on the productivity of his or her team. Although an effective leader is essential for any school to excel, a leader alone cannot ensure the success of the entire organization. Further, a leader that forges ahead alone with his or her own ideas is not truly a leader. When a team works hard out of fear, the success will be temporary as job satisfaction will be low and turnover will be high.
Moreover, students can feel a culture of fear and intimidation, and research has consistently shown a positive school culture along with productive relationships is strongly linked to student success. With these pieces in mind, a leader who is not invested in collaborative decision-making will not find success.
In contrast, a leader who understands the value in collaborative decision-making will constantly seek input and consider multiple viewpoints in making all critical decisions. Decision-making logically should consider input from those who will be responsible for direct implementation and have expertise related to the decision. With regard to showing value for teachers’ feedback, actions speak louder than words. That is, a leader’s behavior is what defines a leader as opposed to their beliefs and words.
A strong leader hires the best and values the expertise of these individuals. As part of a student-first focus, successful principals aim to hire individuals who have more knowledge than them in key areas needed to move the building forward. The principal builds the school culture and models how stakeholders interact with one another, but cannot be expected to be the expert in all areas. Therefore, successful principals must hire people who are “smarter” than them in select skills. The job thereafter is to assemble the areas like a puzzle that works together to build a school that provides students and the community with the resources necessary to excel.
How to Support Teachers in the Decision-Making Process
Often teachers want to share thoughts and give input in a staff meeting, but feel the group is too large and are fearful to share. Also, teachers frequently “tune out” during a whole-group staff meeting because many items only apply to select grade levels or groups. Further, these meetings can be lengthy. As such, staff often do not want to prolong the duration for colleagues.
In contrast, grade-level meetings are small, personal, and differentiated to meet the needs of the small group of teachers present. In this setting, the principal is able to directly engage with each person present. As such, the principal can ask teachers questions while the staff can also comfortably ask the principal questions. These meetings allow productive conversation centered on student success, school climate, and staff satisfaction. Exemplary leaders want this personalized feedback and reflect upon this feedback to promote a culture of ongoing improvement aimed at creating a school that focuses on student success.
During grade-level meetings, a team can work together to accomplish a lot with a little upfront time invested from building leadership. By actively listening and showing value for thoughts shared, teachers will feel supported. Leaders should restate what teachers say at points to show the input is valued and being considered. Listening and showing value for everyone is more important to credibility than “knee jerk” reactions to implement every suggestion, which can actually harm credibility.
These meetings also help to strengthen a principal’s connection to the classroom. Teams can work on curriculum, teaching methodologies, building assessments, and reviewing data to ensure the success of each individual student. Teachers will feel supported when they truly have a say in the curriculum resources used and the formative assessments given. Further, the resources are normally better quality and assessments are better aligned as teachers bring a wealth of classroom experience to the decision-making process.
Professional Learning Communities (PLC)
PLCs are a normal growing point from grade-level meetings as a manner to support teachers through the collaborative decision-making process. These communities are by definition focused on student success through collaborative decision-making paired with data-driven decision-making. Decision-making must be a shared process that is not owned by an individual leader in order for the process to be a PLC. If a leader does not share the decision-making power with the staff, the school does not operate as a PLC. As leaders show value in the teacher perspective as key decisions related to the school are made, teachers will feel supported and valued.
Further, sharing data in a positive manner related to strategic goals can be empowering. Through sharing formative data and discussing ways best to proceed, teachers have an opportunity to shape the future of the school for the best. Knowing that a person is making a difference and a valuable contribution can certainly be empowering and make a person feel supported.
Textbook and Consumable Adoption
Textbook and consumable resources are directly implemented by teachers, so they should be included in these decision-making processes. Teachers have a daily direct connection to the classroom and students. As such, a wise leader or leaders will actively listen and weigh the feedback related to these resources. Technology resources and online platforms should include teachers in the decision-making process in the same manner.
Building leaders can show value in including teachers in the decision-making process regarding instructional materials by allocating a building-level fund for curriculum resources. With this fund, teachers can request specific classroom materials. Teachers can weigh this input and purchase materials as funds allow. This fund can make more teachers feel included in decision-making even if major adoptions are handled at the district level. District-level adoptions should still include teachers in the decision-making process.
Individualized Professional Development.
A great way to support teachers through decision-making is by differentiated professional development (PD) tailored to the goals, needs, and aspirations of the individual. By being able to personalize PD, leaders show they know their staff and are having frequent conversations related to their needs. Having a teacher reflect upon their PD needs is an excellent way to support teachers. Further, PD will likely be more productive if teachers are included in the decision-making process, as they will value the opportunity afforded.
Internal Professional Development
In addition to differentiated PD plans for teachers, principals can support and include teachers in the decision-making process by offering PD workshops led by building-level teachers. Often the greatest resource to teachers can be the person down the hall. By allowing teachers to share success stories, teachers will feel supported and valued.